Rice: Is ASU Hoops on Verge of Losing Six Years of Progress?

Injuries and Covid-related issues transformed a promising 2020-21 season into disappointment

Posted on March 19, 2021

Wills Rice
  By Wills Rice of Dash Sports TV for SportsPac12

Just 11 months ago, the Sun Devils were a cancelled March Madness tournament away from three consecutive appearances. Rather than being a question of whether the team would make the Big Dance, it seemed to be one how far would it go?

Christopher

The Devils boasted the nation’s eighth-best recruiting class and the second-best in the Pac-12. Josh Christopher was the 12th-ranked recruit in the country, joined by Marcus Bagley, the 29th overall player in the 2020 class. All of this combined with one of the best point guards in the country, Remy Martin.

Where did it all fall apart? The Devils, who were built around scoring and high flying energy, finished 11-14 overall and 7-10 in Conference play.

Certainly, injuries were a big headline—if not the main headline.

Taeshon Cherry sat out for personal reasons, missing 18 of the 25 games. Marcus Bagley (ankle) and Josh Christopher (back) suffered season-ending injuries that left them out for the last nine games.

Remy Martin | thesundevils.com/ASU Athletics

With those two starters out, the Sun Devils turned to a seven-man rotation. Then the season was halted by a covid-contact tracing situation that required ASU to miss four games at the beginning, and five spread throughout.

On top of it all, Martin missed time after the passing of his grandfather.

This team never had a chance to get into a groove. Whether it was injuries, covid, or a bad stroke of luck, the 2020-21 Sun Devils just couldn’t catch a break.

Realistically, although the season finished just last week, it was over after a 4-8 start, following a home loss to UTEP. I admit—though it later proved hasty on my part—I personally questioned whether Hurley and Martin had their heads in it at one point.

But Hurley and Martin both flipped the switch as injuries continued to pour in and the team was in dire need of leaders. After two road losses to Colorado and Utah, the Sun Devils turned to the Pac-12 Tournament, hoping win four straight and secure a tournament bid.

The first game went straight down to the wire, but after a fantastic coaching performance by Hurley and stellar play by Verge to finish it off, the Devils claimed a 64-59 win over Washington State.

However, ASU ran into a rested Oregon squad coming off the Pac-12 regular season title. Really, from the opening tip, the Sun Devils were outmatched, and their season ended with a 91-73 thrashing at the hands of the Ducks.

The timeline gets more interesting after the season ends. Seniors Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge, and Kimani Lawrence are all graduating, but there have been talks of Lawrence potentially coming back.

But then the wheels started coming off.

Taeshon Cherry entered the transfer portal, and a shock wave reverberated through Sun Devil Nation when Jalen House—son of ASU legend Eddie House, and projected starting Point Guard—announced he was entering the transfer portal.

Next, Aaron Torres of Fox Sports Radio sent out a pair of tweets regarding Hurley, hinting that the sixth-year Sun Devil coach might be leaving Tempe for DePaul.

His mention of Hurley being “at odds” with the University references an incident that took place over a year ago.

If Hurley were to leave, what would his departure mean for an ASU program that felt as if it had finally arrived? And even if Hurley were to come back, his depleted roster would have many holes to fill, including the potential loss of some players still on the roster.

Hurley

After one tumultuous season, the ASU basketball program seems to be clinging to its six years of progress. Hurley had the Devils within grasp of what seemed like sure stardom, having taken the one-and-done route to producing NBA stars, while building a powerhouse in the West.

Yet, here ASU sits, following a sub-.500 season, with the seventh-ranked recruiting class in the Pac-12, one spot above the Sun Devils’ national ranking last year, and a coach who is rumored to be unhappy with the AD and prominently linked to an opening at DePaul.

No doubt, ASU has some questions to answer this offseason. And with the departure of star point guard Remy Martin—the heart and soul of Hurley’s system—the Sun Devils likely face the start of a new chapter in their basketball story.

You can watch Rice’s Devil Dash Sports Talk Show on Dash Sports TV, and read his other sports stories and columns at Cronkite Sports.




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